Tag Archives: national park

Weekend Drive: Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument

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Happy Thanksgiving! Let’s go back in history 700 years and visit some ruins of the Mogollon people of Southern New Mexico. This was a fascinating tribe who lived off the land, and I was able to see a small piece of their preserved history — The Gila Cliff Dwellings.

These dwellings are believed to date back to 1275 and contain 46 rooms in five caves on Cliff Dweller Canyon. Archaeologists believe that 10-15 families occupied these caves and it is not known why this area was abandoned. These dwellings are located in southern Catron County, just 37 miles north of Silver City, NM on NM 15. And let me tell you, those were 37 joyous miles!

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I was joined by my buddies, Tyson (drivetofive), James Lee (sixspeedblog) and James Zamora. We met up in Silver City on Friday night and started the journey early Saturday morning. The rides for the day were James Lee’s 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio press car, my 2004 Mazda 6 i, and Tyson’s 1992 Acura Integra GS-R 5spd.

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Total miles / hours: 155 / 3.25. Let’s get started…

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James Z. and I heading out Friday afternoon for Silver City. To us, our portion of the drive was almost comically short since we were to cover just 155 miles. Tyson and James L. had a much further jaunt of 312 miles. We all arrived and spent the night in prep for the following day.

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Saturday morning and it was a calm 45°F as we gathered and checked out each others rides. This was my first close up encounter with Alfa Romero since their return to the US this year. Tyson’s Integra just had a fresh detail and a lot of maintenance performed to bring it to a highly desirable, clean, original condition. That striking Aztec Green paint is original! My Pebble Ash 6 got a little attention as well since this was its first time participating in a group drive.

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Checking out the 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio.

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We set out on Highway 15 toward the Dwellings. The scenery was just plain gorgeous as we climbed into the Gila National Forest on one of the best mountain roads I’ve seen in southern New Mexico.

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Quick stop for a photo.

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This road offered many switchbacks and oodles of fun. It gave me a chance to see how the “new” 6 would handle.

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James L. tossed me the keys to the Alfa to give it a go.

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This Stelvio’s 2.0L turbocharged 4cyl was an absolute peach. The 280hp motor was smooth, quick to rev, and responsive. The transmission was very well mated to the engine, and was always ready to spring out of each corner with authority. Aside from a few cost-cutting interior bits, this was one nice package.

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Another photo op. Prior to this photo, I was able to give Tyson’s Integra a go as well. Even with 242,000 original miles, it felt tight and nimble. I loved the total “90s” of it with the motorized seat belts, velour upholstery, and the whole driving experience that was just simple and pure.

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I loved this road. Part of it was narrow with no stripping, many blind corners, and it made me feel like we were hundreds of miles away from civilization. It was challenging if you chose to push your car and almost every corner was nicely banked. Just don’t go overboard on those corners since there is no cell service on the entire stretch.

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Arriving at the welcome sign.

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Checking out the visitor center.

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We encountered nothing but very helpful and pleasant park rangers.

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To access the dwellings, we hiked a one mile loop which climbs 200+ft. On the way up, we crossed many small footbridges with a gentle stream running beneath.

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Views of the dwellings halfway up.

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Once at the top, you can actually walk through the ruins as long as you don’t touch the walls. This was stressed by the park rangers to ensure decay isn’t accelerated from the oils of our fingers.

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Group shot in (I believe) in the fourth cave.

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Climbing down the ladder from the largest room.

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There’s a lot of unanswered questions on the Mogollon people’s lives. The last part of our tour consisted of a short Q&A with ranger, Connie. Connie pointed out several details we would have otherwise missed such as pictographs (pictured here), architectural features and explaining possible uses for some of the rooms. One room still had some of the original corn husks used by the Mogollon.

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The tour took roughly an hour and afterwards, we headed back down Highway 15. I let James and Tyson take the lead as I felt like taking it more easy.

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Lunch was in Silver City at Nancy’s Silver Cafe. Food of choice was green chicken enchiladas with an egg on top.

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Usually with New Mexico-Mexican food, the messier the plate, the better the flavor!

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After lunch, we parted ways and concluded the drive. Thanks for coming along!

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Acura Drive to the Valley of Death

Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit for the title of this post, but I was excited to share such a grand trip with you all. That grand trip was an 1800-mile drive to Death Valley National Park with my friends, Tyson Hugie from DrivetoFive, Sofyan Bey from 2theRedline and Tyson’s friend Peter Kulikowski. Death Valley is a desert valley in the eastern portion of California’s Mojave Desert. This is the lowest, driest and hottest area in North America. We had this trip planned for some time now and wanted give our Acuras a good run for their money. Mine especially considering it’s the middle of July, and I’m rocking Crystal Black Pearl over black leather. Good combo for an area known to have temperatures soaring well over 100˙F in the summer months. The record high in July 1913 was a scorching 134˙F! Within the park, we visited Badwater Basin (this is the lowest point in North America at 282ft BELOW sea level), Furnace Creek and Stovepipe Wells. Get ready, this is going to be a hot one!

However, before we get started with this grand adventure, let’s back up a few weeks to a few little updates on the TL:

I officially hit 50,000 miles on July 1st. Only half way now to the big 100K!

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After coming home from my East Coast trip, I found my custom plate in the mail which I had been waiting for about 3 months!

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In New Mexico, our plates are rather bright. I had two choices: the Centennial bright green or this traditional New Mexico yellow. I obviously went the traditional route.

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Now, let’s get a move on with the trip. Before setting out Friday afternoon from work, one of my favorite co-workers left me a farewell “sticky” which made my day.

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I had the TL all washed up and packed.

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My general prep for the trip was making sure I had sufficient water. Side note: the sunroof is the ONLY surface I will set anything on. Otherwise, I don’t want to face the scratches on the paint that would arise.

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As the miles piled on, the day was ending. I had the privilege of being able to drive into the colorful, Arizona sunset. This is my favorite time of day to drive.

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I drove to Kingman, AZ and got a good night’s rest for the adventures that awaited the next day. The modest Travelodge allowed for parking right in front.

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Next day, I made my first stop in Las Vegas, NV where I’d meet up with Tyson, Sofyan and Peter.

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Nevada Stateline…

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Another great pull out to view the mighty Lake Mead.

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After a few hours rolling down Hwy 93, I approached ‘Vegas!

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I met the boys in the Excalibur Hotel

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Here I am next to Peter, Tyson and Sofyan.

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We wasted no time and hopped in our Acuras and Tyson led the way to Death Valley. It was an easy 125 miles from Las Vegas. As usual, he was in his 2013 ILX 6-speed.

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We made a quick stop in an abandoned Nevada town for a few pix.

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Next on the list, Furnace Creek in Death Valley.

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We’ve arrived!

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The heat was certainly a surprise. At this time, the TL had a reading of 110˙F.

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This sign says it all.

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Here’s the sign notifiying us that we achieved sea level. Next stop in the Park, Furnace Creek.

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I got the shock of my life when Tyson showed us the norm gas prices in Furnace Creek. If I had the need to fill up, that would be a nice round $100 for premium. Ouch!

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Lunch was at a simple yet tasty cafe called the Corkscrew. Luckily, they had good air conditioning to relieve us of the heat.

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We stopped in the National Park’s Visitor Center. Here I am in front of their large thermometer reading 116!

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First sign you see when you walk in the doors.

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After that stop, we swapped cars and I took the reins of the ILX for while Tyson led the way in my TL to Badwater Basin. Always a cool feeling when I see my own car driving in front of me.

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Here we are.

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So, what is Badwater Basin? It’s the lowest elevation point in North America. That’s a good 282 feet below sea level. The gound was crusty and hard from the dried salt deposits.

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Another danger sign of the extreme heat. It said that walking after 10:00am was not recommended.

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So, here we go! It’s only 2-3pm in the afternoon.

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After we felt like we got a good dose of heat, we all swapped the keys again. This time, Sofyan took the wheel of the TL while Peter was in the ILX.

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Now off to a scenic dirt road recommended by Tyson. We were determined to bring some Death Valley dirt back home on our cars. This is “20 Mule Team Canyon” trail. This was just 2.7 miles of heaven!

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It was so much fun, we drove this route twice! Peter and Sofyan got to try the TL on both runs.

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Thanks to Tyson for capturing this great angle of the TL.

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As you can see by my face, this road was one of the highlights of the Park.

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Now, back on the road to the next stop…

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Last stop before leaving the park was Stovepipe Wells. As we parked and exited our Acuras, there was a soft purr of a diesel nearby. Not a diesel I’ve ever heard before. As I look to the side to investigate, I see these mysterious-looking GM trucks parked off to the side. I’ve never seen them before. What are they? Let’s have a look…

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Upon further examination, we all concluded these were the 2016 GMC Canyon trucks in pre-production testing in the heat of the valley. So, there’s a teaser for you. We might have a diesel offering of the next Canyon.

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Peter took the wheel of the TL as we headed out of the park to the hotel for the evening.

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Night’s stay was on the California/Nevada border in the village of Amargosa Valley.

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The next day, we grabbed a photo at the giant cow that was by the hotel.

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After we parted ways in Kingman, I took I-40 back to New Mexico where I’d stop by my grandpa’s house for the next night. Here’s on the way to Flagstaff, AZ. 70˙F was sure a welcome compared to the heat of Death Valley.

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Normal stop at my old stomping grounds to see what the area looks like. It’s been 8 years now since I’ve resided here!

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Pit stop for a few sunset photos.

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Smoke in the sky from a nearby forest fire gave the sun a nice red glow.

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I got to New Mexico around 9pm.

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My grandpa is on vacation for about 3 months in Canada so it was a goal of mine to check up on his house and mail. Remember my grandpa’s stable? The next day, I took a few of his cars out for a quick drive to run some oil through and clean away any cobwebs. Here’s the old ’87 F-250 Diesel prowling the back roads of northern New Mexico. I love this thing.

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This is called “6 mile canyon road.” Looks smooth here, but it’s not very car friendly as you get further into the “bush.”

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Also, got the ’74 MGB out to run around a little. This hadn’t been started in about 6 months.

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I always like to challenge myself and the TL. How about borrowing a gas lawn mower and weed wacker? Snug, but it fit!

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And that concludes the Death Valley trip. Here’s my ending mileage. Thanks all for coming along!

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